The term “Hitchockian” gets thrown about quite a bit but rarely feels earned, and though The Host lacks much in the way of quality, it certainly calls the master to mind for a few fleeting moments.
Some films are bad in a so-bad-they’re-good way (looking at you, Cats) and others are bad because they take big risks and simply fail to execute them well. And then some films are just not very good in a sad sort of way. The Host, unfortunately, falls into that camp. The dialogue is often recited as if it is being read from offscreen cue cards, the plot somehow manages to be incomprehensible and obvious all at once and everything from the sets to the actors to the action is just a bit drab. However, there is a brief, ten-minute spell in the middle where The Host almost saves itself, but after a truly shocking twist it reverts back to its original ways and limps to the finish.
The story follows Robert (Mike Beckingham), a desperate London banker who is likely meant to be attractive and charismatic, but who instead seems reactive and confused. All of his conversations seem to involve him wrinkling his wide, expressive forehead while other characters like his boss, his married (to his boss) girlfriend (Margot Stilley) and his brother (Dougie Poynter from the British band McFly) provide heavy doses of exposition.
There are some bright spots, such as a femme fatale turn by talented Dutch actress Maryam Hassouni and some inexplicable appearances by a range of excellent international thespians, including Togo Igawa, Derek Jacobi and Jeroen Krabbe. And then there’s the aforementioned twist, which (spoiler alert) sees the film turn into a Hostel-like torture fest. It’s so brief and tonally confusing that it almost seems to have been inserted from another movie. While the themes this twist brings to the surface are interesting, they aren’t explored; instead, the film goes back to attempting slow-burn suspense without providing any actual tension or stakes.
Hitchcock was the obvious influence here, and everything from the attractive thief on the run to the nature of the shocking midway twist brings Psycho to mind. However, while the gender-flipping that The Host does to that classic is smart and interesting, the rest, which jettisons subtlety and style in favor of shock and then convoluted plotting, is not.
Director Andy Newbery makes his feature-length debut here after working on a number of UK television series, and his background shows, as The Host mostly – in terms of style – looks like well-made television. Slick lighting, evocative shadows and briskly shot geometric architecture give it that network television procedural vibe, and all-too-many indies seem to be taking this approach as of late. A bit of character in the presentation would have gone a long way here, particularly when one considers how much mileage Hitchcock got out of his set design and cinematography.
While The Host is at best a missed opportunity, it does deserve some credit for taking on Hitchcock and for attempting a shocking, mid-movie twist. The term “Hitchockian” gets thrown about quite a bit but rarely feels earned, and though The Host lacks much in the way of quality, it certainly calls the master to mind for a few fleeting moments.